To-go liquor is ‘the right thing to do’ for Utah restaurants, lawmaker says

SB119, sponsored by Sen. Derek Kitchen, would allow consumers to buy sealed, pre-made cocktails for pickup. But passage could prove tough.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) David Gonzalez Jr. delivers a pickup order at restaurant Morelia, a family-run business that has been operating in Murray for 30 years.

A bill that would allow cocktails to go at Utah restaurants — with some restrictions — was unveiled Thursday.

Passage of SB119 won’t be easy, though. The Utah Legislature has resisted a push by the hospitality industry for “to-go cocktails” during the coronavirus pandemic. Drunken driving and access to minors are among the chief concerns.

Sponsored by Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, the measure would allow restaurants to sell sealed, pre-made alcoholic beverages to customers who also order food to go. The proposal does not apply to bars.

“It’s time for the UT legislature to modernize our alcohol policy by removing burdensome regulations and preventing business from innovating,” Kitchen tweeted Thursday. “This is the right thing to do.”

Under Utah law, restaurants have “on-premises” alcohol licenses, which allow them to serve beer, wine or spirits only within the confines of their establishment.

SB119 amends the operational requirements for full-service restaurants, allowing them under certain conditions ”to sell, offer for sale, or furnish certain beverages to a patron for consumption” off-site as well as permitting “a patron to carry spirituous liquor from the licensed premises.”

“The COVID pandemic has fundamentally changed the way restaurants operate, in order to survive, most had to change their business model to accommodate takeout and delivery,” Kitchen said. “Unfortunately, under Utah law, restaurants are unable to sell alcohol with this new model of operating.”

Under SB119, restaurants could offer liquor to go if:

• The drink is in an original, sealed container.

• It is not more than 12 ounces.

• It does not contain more than 10% alcohol by volume — or 8% by weight.

Curbside alcohol sales would help the bottom line of many struggling restaurants that “rely on beer, wine and liquor sales to make ends meet,” Kitchen said.

It also would be more convenient for consumers who could order and pay for the alcohol at the same time they buy their food, said Jeremy Ford, director of operations for Toscano, Garage Grill and Salt Flats Spirits and Brewery.

“There is value in being able to sell customers a beer or other beverage to go with a pickup order so they don’t have to drive to the liquor store or grocery store.”

Ford called SB119 “an incredibly good first step” but would like lawmakers to broaden the scope of to-go liquor sales — especially with the growing canned cocktail trend.

“Bars legally cannot sell a canned cocktail,” he said. “The law is written in a way that says the alcohol must be metered.” There are bans on to-go cocktails at golf courses and event centers.

Utah does allow those businesses to sell beer — in bottles or cans — to go, he said. “We need to get rid of the mythical line that exists between the two products.”

Amid the coronavirus, several states have relaxed laws on alcohol purchases temporarily and are allowing curbside pickup and/or delivery of beer, wine and spirits, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

Another alcohol bill, which would create a more efficient special-order program through the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, was advanced by a legislative committee earlier this week and is now being considered by the full Senate.

Under SB59, consumers could place orders for beer, wine and spirits that are not readily available in the state and have them delivered to a liquor store for pickup.

Consumers still would be required to pay the state’s 88% markup, said bill sponsor Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. But with a more efficient system, the alcohol products would arrive within a few days or weeks — rather than several months.

The DABC would need $1.3 million to launch the program and then $800,00 annually to maintain it, Davis told the committee. But if more consumers placed special orders, it could also bring in more revenue to the state.

Currently, the DABC collects about $6.5 million a year from special orders.